rusq: Vol. 52 Issue 1: p. 67
Sources: American Food by the Decades
Brian E. Cassidy

Graduate Reference Assistant, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

For as long as human culture and society have existed humans have had an interest, if not an obsession, with the food they eat. Whether it was the star chefs of the kitchens of the elite in Ancient Rome or the gourmands and foodies of the last century one can see that people love their food. As such, food is not just to keep our bodies living but it is for social and spiritual nourishment as well.

Sherri Liberman’s work, American Food by the Decades, covers the food related trends, brands, companies, technology, and celebrities of the United States in the 20th Century. The author states “what we consume says volumes about who we are as a people and nation” (vii). With this statement in mind Liberman takes us on a splendid, well researched tour of who we were and are. The book is compact at 250 pages, but succeeds in fulfilling the author’s purpose in an easy to read and understand format.

The chapters of the book cover each decade of the twentieth century. Each chapter begins with a several page long introduction to the decade covering historical, cultural, and, of course, food trends. Following this is an alphabetical listing of entries of the important foods, brands, companies, technology, and notable people of each decade. Thus one can easily look up the origins of the muffuletta sandwich, Philly cheesesteaks, Cusinart food processors, or find out who is Bobby Flay. The chapters are concluded with a section of further reading on the topics covered. The end of the book includes a useful index.

While this book is not an encyclopedia per se, the second part of each chapter is laid out in encyclopedic fashion. Thus, I believe a good comparison can be made with Smith’s The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (Oxford, 2004). I do not believe this book to be a replacement for the Oxford but it may very well be a substitute because of its smaller size and cost to a library whose patrons do not require the depth of the Oxford publication. The individual entries are well written and researched much like their encyclopedia counterparts.

Sherri Liberman’s work will be of interest to culinary students, historians, and the fans of the various television shows of channels like the Food Network and the Cooking Channel. Her work could be an excellent addition to a reference collection but may also be circulated by some libraries because of its smaller size and general appeal. Either way, I feel this book is a worth a look and a purchase by a public library and perhaps academic libraries whose host institutions have culinary programs.

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